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Census: Child Care Costs on the Rise

A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that child care costs are constantly going up. The newly-published report looked at the percentage of family income spent on child care between 1986 and 2011.

The report’s data show that about 7 percent of family income goes to child care each year, even though the cost has increased over time — nearly doubling during the past 25 years.

“Perhaps the most critical decision parents make in balancing their work and home life is choosing the type of care to provide for their children while they work,” said report author Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer in the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. “Child care arrangements and the financial burden they impose on families are important issues for policymakers and anyone concerned about the welfare of children. This report is unique in that it is not only the sole study from the Census Bureau on this topic, but also provides a consistent time-series on trends going back to the mid-1980s.”

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Families with an employed mother and children younger than 15 paid an average of $143 per week for child care in 2011, up from $84 in 1985, according to the report. The data also shows that the percent of families who made a cash payment for child care for at least one of their children declined from 42 percent in 1997 to 32 percent in 2011.

A number of factors have led to a decrease in the number of parents who send their children to organized child care facilities. In some cases, a parent may be unemployed and able to watch children when they’re not in school or when the other parent is busy or at work. In others, they have access to more after-school programs, as many programs receive more funding to accommodate single parents who need extra help.

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Children also are caring for themselves more. The study shows this to be fairly common, as 5 percent of kids age 5 to 11 and 27 percent of children age 12 to 14 regularly care for themselves for an average of seven hours per week. Fifty-six percent of children age 5 to 14 spend less than five hours per week without adult supervision, according to the study.

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